Playwright May Sumbwanyambe and writer James Robertson discuss the life and legacy of Joseph Knight


2 Nov 2022

News Story

On 18 November, following the performance of Enough of Him at Perth Theatre, Dr Peggy Brunache will host a post-show conversation between playwright May Sumbwanyambe and writer James Robertson as they discuss the life and legacy of Joseph Knight.

James Robertson wrote the acclaimed historical novel Joseph Knight, published in 2003 and Dr Peggy Brunache is a lecturer on the history of Atlantic slavery at the University of Glasgow and the first Director of the newly established Beniba Centre for Slavery Studies.

Based on a true story, May Sumbwanyambe's Enough of Him, explores the life of Joseph Knight, an African man enslaved by plantation owner Sir John Wedderburn and brought to Scotland to serve in his Perthshire mansion.    

Joseph Knight became a notable figure in a landmark legal battle that saw him successfully appeal against a Scottish court’s decision that had reduced him to mere property in the ownership of his former master. This victory affirmed that Scots Law could not uphold the institution of slavery in Scotland, a ruling that would make a profound contribution to paving the way for the abolition of slavery in Scotland/Britain.   

Playwright May Sumbwanyambe said:

“When I first started researching this story about Joseph Knight back in 2016 – my very first port of call was James Robertson. James very generously talked all things Joseph Knight and John Wedderburn with me, in a small Cafe called Black Medicine on Nicholson Street, in Edinburgh. After the incredible critical and audience response that the play has received, It feels inevitable to me, that our two works will continue to be in conversation with each other, especially where I have found that theatre goers have also been readers and have managed to experience both works. It’s a real privilege and joy then, almost 6 years later, to spend this final week of the journey of the production in conversation with James again, facilitated by my good friend Dr Peggy Brunache and on a stage, in the part of Scotland where this incredible story took place.”   

Writer James Robertson said:

"The thing about Joseph Knight is that what happened to him and what he did is his story. We who retell it, however many years after the events took place, bring our own ideas and experiences to it and that, for me, is what makes history fascinating, because the past shifts according to the perspectives from which it is viewed. But whether the story becomes a better understood part of the historical record, or a novel, or a play for radio or the stage, it remains Joseph Knight’s story and nothing we do can or should ever take it away from him.”

Dr Peggy Brunache said:

“The case of Joseph Knight is certainly extraordinary because it irrefutably established the national precedent to forbid chattel slavery in Scotland by the late eighteenth century. But Knight was certainly not the first to challenge it. Scottish abolitionism were acts of resistance based on the nation’s own moral and political ideals of justice and performed by both Black and White individuals. As a freedom seeker and Black abolitionist, Joseph Knight advocated for himself and resisted the supposed nature of his enslaved status by questioning the right of any man to own another on Scottish soil.”

The discussion will be filmed and added as an additional resource to the National Theatre of Scotland’s Education Portal, along with a filmed version of the production.

To book for this performance of Enough of Him and the post-show talk on 18th November at Perth Theatre visit here.